BEREA, Ohio — One of the more integral pieces of the Browns offense can't be missed on the sidelines with his stark white beard that stands out among the crowd of staffers. But for much of last season, Browns running backs coach Stump Mitchell was missed as he took time away from his coaching duties to focus on his health.
Mitchell, 62, was sidelined from his coaching duties at the end of October during the 2021 season, out "indefinitely" whike tending to a medical issue that related to a previous knee surgery he had undergone in the 2020 offseason.
Indefinitely turned out to be the remainder of the season for Mitchell, who underwent two knee procedures after a previous knee injury that began bothering him again in June 2021. After months of pushing through pain, it became too much, and Mitchell decided it was time to address the injuries and focus on his health.
Mitchell missed the Browns last 10 games of the 2021 season, but after recovering from his knee procedures, returned to his full-time duties at the end of February, and is back at the Browns facility hard at work.
Despite being out for much of the season, his health didn't stop him from being present.
While his coaching duties were taken over by coaching assistant Ryan Cordell and senior offensive assistant Kevin Rogers, Mitchell still made it a point to stay involved with the players and the staff, spending time at the facilities during his hiatus.
Throughout the season, you could catch a glimpse of Mitchell's spectacular white beard as he walked through the doors of the CrossCountry Mortgage Campus facility, or as he stood on the sideline watching his backs Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt, D'Ernest Johnson and John Kelly run through drills.
You might also, if you were looking closely enough, notice his health improving in each visit to the facilities.
Mitchell started making appearances back with the team using a walker to help him get around. After a few weeks, he was able to begin using crutches. His health might have slowed him a bit, but it didn't stop him from making sure he made his rounds and talked to his players. Because Mitchell, a longtime coach, loves what he does.
"I think this is probably the first time I ever missed coaching a game, either in college or the NFL," Mitchell said in a recent interview with the Browns. "It's definitely an adjustment. You want to be able to play and help your team out, and you try to do that by supporting them. But it's still not the same as being there. You want to be in front of the guys. You want to be in the battle with them as well."
Mitchell supported the team through it all, even in his absence. But now, as the 2022 season approaches, the Browns running backs coach will be back and able to battle with his players like he's been missing.
The Browns were able to find success in the run game last season, ranked fourth in the league in rushing yards and second in yards per carry, despite Mitchell's absence and the injuries to Chubb and Hunt—not to mention COVID-19, which impacted the running backs rooms last season as well.
Part of the success was due in part to the depth of the Browns in their running backs room, with Johnson stepping up big throughout the season when they needed him most. Part of the success was the depth at coaching, with the Browns staff coming together and creating a game plan for the run game each week. All of the reasons for success go back to Mitchell, who stayed in contact with his players and helped review the game plan from Cordell, Rogers and Chief of Staff Callie Brownson, the team said.
As the Browns continue their offseason work, Mitchell is happy to be back. He's entering his fourth season with Cleveland, nose to the grindstone and ready to help the team bounce back from a disappointing 2021 season.
"I think we have a great thing going here in Cleveland," Mitchell said in a team interview. "It's a good feeling being able to be around guys who want to continue to get better and strive to win. I think everybody's mind is in the right place, and the arrow is definitely pointing up."
Camryn Justice is a digital content producer at News 5 Cleveland. Follow her on Twitter @camijustice.
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